Monday, June 17, 2013

Cellphones and Looking Stupid!

Today I'm sharing a story about an icon in the American film industry. Many of us who use cell phones may not realize it but we have the technology today largely because of this lady. Unfortunately, the author of this story, which was shared with me by a friend, is unknown.
It all started with a skin flick.
In 1933 a beautiful young Austrian woman took off her clothes for a movie director. She ran through the woods, naked. She swam in a lake naked, pushing well beyond the social norms of the period.
The most popular movie in 1033 was King Kong. But everyone in Hollywood was talking about that scandalous movie with the gorgeous, young Austrian woman.
Louis B. Mayer, of the giant movie studio, MGM, said she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The film was banned practically everywhere, which of course made it even more popular and valuable. Mussolini reportedly refused to sell his copy at any price.
The star of the film called, Ecstasy, was Hedwig Kiesler, who said that the secret of her beauty was "to stand there and look stupid."
In reality, Kiesler was anything but stupid. On the contrary, she was a genius. She had grown up as the only child of a prominent Jewish banker. She was a math prodigy and excelled at science.
As Kiesler grew older, she became ruthless, using all the power her body and mind gave her.
Between the sexual roles she played, her tremendous beauty, and the power of her intellect, Kiesler would confound the men in her life, including her six husbands, two of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century, and one of the greatest movie producers in the history of American film.
Her beauty made her rich for a time. She is said to have made -- and spent-- $30 million in her life. But her greatest accomplishment resulted from her intellect and her invention continues to shape the world we live in today.
You see, this young Austrian starlet would take one of the most valuable technologies ever developed right from under Hitler's nose. After fleeing to America she not only became a major Hollywood star, her name sits on one of the most important patents ever granted by the U.S. Patent Office.
Today when you use your cellphone or, over the next few years, as you experience super-fast wireless internet access (via "long-term evolution" or  "LTE" technology), you'll be using an extension of the technology a 20-year old actress first conceived while sitting at dinner with Hitler.
At the time she made Ecstasy, Kiesler was married to one of the richest men in Austria, Friedrich Mandl, who was Austria's leading arms maker. His firm would become a key supplier to the Nazis.

Mandl used his beautiful young wife as a showpiece at important business dinners with representatives of the Austrian, Italian, and German fascist forces. One of Mandl's favorite topics at these gatherings -- which included meals with Hitler and Mussolini -- was the technology surrounding radio-controlled missles and torpedoes.

Wireless weapons offered far greater ranges than the wire-controlled alternatives that prevailed at the time.

Kiesler sat through these dinners "looking stupid," while absorbing everything she heard.

As a Jew, Kiesler hated the Nazis. She abhored her husband's business ambitions. Mandl responded to his willful wife by imprisoning her in his castle, Schloss Schwarzenau. In 1937, she managed to escape. She drugged her maid, snuck out of the castle wearing the maid's clothes, and sold her jewelry to finance a trip to London.

She got out of Austria just in time. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria. The Nazis seized Mandl's factory. Mandl, who was half Jewish, fled to Brazil. Later, be became an adviser to Argentina's iconic populist president, Juan Peron.

In London, Kiesler arranged a meeting with Louis B. Mayer. She signed a long-term contract with him, becoming one of MGM's biggest stars. She appeared in more than 20 films and was a co-star to Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope.  Each of her first seven MGM movies was a blockbuster.

But Kiesler cared far more about fighting the Nazis than about making movies. At the height of her fame in 1042, she developed a new kind of communications sustem, optimized for sending coded messages that couldn't be "jammed." She was building a system that would allow torpedoes and guided bombs to always reach their targets. She was buiding a system to kill Nazis.

By the 1940s, both the Nazis and the Allied forces were using the kind of single-frequency radio-controlled technology Kiesler's ex-husband had been peddling. The drawback of this technology was that the enemy could find the appropriate frequency and "jam" or intercept the signal, thereby interfering with the missile's intended path.

Kiesler's key innovation was to "change the channel." It was a way of encoding a message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jamed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies being used.  The problem was, she could not figure out how to synchronize the frequency changes on both the receiver and the transmitter. To solve the problem, she turned to her acquaintance and, perhaps the world's first techno-musician, George Anthiel.

Anthiel  had achieved some notoriety for creating intricate musical compositions. He synchronized his melodies across 12 player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.

Kiesler incorporated Anthiel's technology for synchronizing his player pianos. Then she was able to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon's receiver and its transmitter.

On August 11, 1942, U.S.Patent No. 2,292,287 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey," which was Kiesler's married name at that time.

Most of you won't recognize the name Kiesler. And no one would remember the name Hedy Markey. But it's a fair bet that anyoone of a certain age reading this will remember one of the great beauties of Hollywood's golden age -- Hedy Lamarr. That was the name Louis B. Mayer gave to his prize actress. That's the name his movie company made famous.

Hedy Lamarr was one of the great pioneers of wireless communications. Her technology was further developed by the U.S. Navy, which has used it ever since.

You're probably using Lamarr's technology too. Her patent sits at the foundation of "spread spectrum technology," which you use everyday when you log on to a wi-fi network or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. It lies at the heart of the massive investments being made right now in so-called 4th generation "LTE: wireless technology."

This next generation of cellphones and cell towers will provide tremendous increases to wireless network speed and quality, by spreading wireless signals across the entire available spectrum. This kind of encoding is only possible using the kind of frequency switching that Hedwig Kiesler invented.

Hedy Kiesler, also known as Hedy Lamarr. Photo source:


 - Ariel Murphy 


  1. Interesting! Reminds me of the old Paul Harvey "Rest of the Story" stories. Very well written

    1. People are always interesting +Paul Porter.

  2. Wow!!! What a wonderful read!! Thank you so much for sharing!! I'm learning so many things today, Monday! I'm glad I am searching! Wonderful story! I know what it's like to get by on looks! Long ago, it was pretty much the only way a woman could excel in a world of men! Cheers to Hedy Lamarr!

    1. We've indeed come a long way +Jane Doh!

  3. Very interesting. One plus one [her husband's work and that of Anthiel] sometimes makes so much more than two. And, now I'll have to look up "Ectasy" on YouTube.

    1. You might have to take a cold shower after watching it.